This is about CAR25, the City of Racine’s cable access television channel. I am a member of the City’s Cable Commission, which endorsed the Skies Fall offer to contract-manage the station.
In Wisconsin, citizen commissions such as ours (which is unpaid and advisory) serve as independent watchdogs for the best interest of the people. I think we have a good commission, and I agreed that Skies Fall was the better of two proposals under consideration; but I opposed endorsing it.
I thought that while the proposal had engaging aspects, it also had loose ends. The bidders aren’t experienced in this field. They also wanted more money than is now spent, although that’s under negotiation.
CAR was started in fall of 2003 as a “P-G” channel, for both public and government access, as only one channel was then available.
Two access channels were originally set aside in 1969 when cable came to town, but one was assigned early on to RUSD, which used it to cablecast educational programs to district classrooms.
CAR’s small staff has carried out its public and government functions and has also covered some community events. As expressed by the mayor in a Jan. 21 Journal Times commentary, the city has a new vision for the channel.
I do feel that the channel has needed more thoughtful guidance, and the staff better supervision. I’d like to see more programs on topics like prenatal care.
CAR is funded with a portion of a special tax (called a “franchise fee”) paid by city cable subscribers, so those who see CAR pay for it. And as most of the fees go into the city’s general revenues, non-subscribers are winners. Racine-area cable users outside the city also see CAR, but their fees go to the municipalities in which they reside.
Whatever new directions CAR might take, I think that basics like the City Council meetings, including the public speaking time, will remain key parts of its value.
Public access, uneven though it might be, should continue its role as a unique community asset. For these basic functions, I wonder about contracting.
Wisconsin Community Media, a state association of access channels, has noted that only one of its about 50 members is contract-managed.
In short, I feel that the city should retain at least some direct control over its cable channel. Given an expanded role, our commission might help CAR be more effective.
Larry Gregg has served on the Cable Commission for more than 30 years. He served for many years as its secretary and is currently vice chairman. He volunteer produces shows for CAR and for the RUSD channel. He is a retired Racine Unified teacher.